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Cannabis Act Offences

The Charge

The newly enacted Cannabis Act provides a framework for legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The goals of the Act are to restrict youth access to cannabis and to provide for the legal production and distribution of cannabis while promoting safe use and public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis. The Act imposes serious criminal penalties on people who break the law, especially those who import or export cannabis illegally, produce cannabis illegally or provide cannabis to youth.

What is legal?

Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 19 or older (in British Columbia) may legally:

Purchase limited amounts of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil or cannabis plants from authorized retailers;
Possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form;
Consume cannabis in locations authorized by local jurisdictions;
Grow up to 4 plants per household;
Share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent with other adults.

What remains illegal?

All possession, production and distribution outside the legal system of the Cannabis Act remains illegal. The Act sets out various offences for “Criminal Activities,” with up to a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

To protect youth, the Cannabis Act prohibits selling cannabis to anyone under 18 years of age. Giving or selling cannabis to youth or involving a youth to commit a cannabis related offence (such as distribution) are punishable by jail.

Possession of illicit cannabis is unlawful under the Act. Illicit cannabis is cannabis obtained from a source other than a government or other licenced cannabis retailer.

Ticketable Offences

The Cannabis Act, under section 51, sets out that for the more minor cannabis offences, police may commence proceedings by issuing a ticket and a summons to attend court. The types of ticketable offences include minor contraventions such as:

  • Possessing more than 30 but less than 50 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent;
  • Possessing up to 50 grams of illicit cannabis;
  • Distributing or selling up to 50 grams of cannabis;
  • Possessing 5 or 6 cannabis plants.

The fine for most Cannabis Act ticketable offences is $200.00. Of note, if a person pays the fine within the time period set out by regulation, the person, under s. 52 is found guilty but deemed to have received an absolute discharge.

Criminal Offences

Other than the ticketable offences for minor cannabis offences, the Cannabis Act calls for the criminal prosecutions in cases where, for example, the person is charged with:

  • Possessing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a public place;
  • Distributing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent);
  • Distributing cannabis to an individual under 19 years of age (in British Columbia);
  • Exporting cannabis;
  • Producing, cultivating, propagating or harvesting cannabis in excess of 6 plants without authorization.

Recent Successes

R. vs. A.J. – Insurance Fraud Investigation

Charges: Fraud Over $5,000 Investigation.
Issue: Given that we were able to negotiate a civil settlement of this $13,000 insurance claim overpayment, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to negotiate a settlement of the alleged fraudulent claim. We obtained a full Release, ending the matter in both the civil and criminal context. No further liability. No criminal charges.

R. vs. M.M. – New Westminster Police Investigation

Charge: Sexual Assault Investigation.
Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence for police to recommend that criminal charges be approved.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to guide our client through the police investigation, and to provide police with information on our client's behalf. Ultimately, police decided not to forward any charge to Crow. No charges approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. C.T. – Insurance Fraud Investigation

Charges: Fraud Under $5,000
Issue: Given our client's repayment of the alleged fraudulent health insurance benefits, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to settle the matter civilly on our client's behalf without any further civil or criminal proceeding. No charges were approved.

R. vs. A.S. – Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charges: Assault (domestic) Reduced to Peace Bond.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to continue with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to steer our client through a course of rehabilitation and persuaded Crown to stay the assault charge and to allow our client to enter into a Peace Bond.

R. vs. G.V. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Uttering Threats.
Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence for criminal charges to be approved.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide Crown counsel with additional information and persuaded Crown that it was not in the public interest to proceed with any criminal charges.

R. vs. M.H.E. – Abbotsford Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown counsel regarding our client's circumstances and was able to persuade Crown that there was no public interest in proceeding with a criminal prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. E.C. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault; Assault.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we guided our client through, the nature of the sex assault itself and our client's true remorse, whether a jail sentence or house arrest were required.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to make a joint submission for a conditional discharge. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions on our client's behalf, the trial judge granted our client the discharge. No jail or house arrest. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. N. O. – Courtenay Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Causing Bodily Harm x2; Assault x3.
Issues: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to Crown counsel which cast the complainant's credibility and reliability into doubt. The Crown made an adjournment application which Mr. Gauthier opposed. Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown to stay all of the criminal charges upon our client entering into a Peace Bond. No jail; No criminal record.

R. v. K.T. – Insurance Fraud Investigation

Charges: Fraud Under $5000.
Issue: Given our client's repayment of the alleged fraudulent health insurance benefit claims, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Mines was able settle the matter on our client's behalf and received a Release from the insurer ending the matter without any further civil or criminal proceeding. No charges were approved.

R. vs. A.H. – Vancouver Supreme Court

Charges: Sentence Appeal - Forcible entry; Assault with a weapon.
Issue: Whether the Supreme Court would uphold our client's conditional discharge that was granted to our client by the Provincial Court.
Result: After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions on this sentence appeal, the Supreme Court justice agreed with Mr. Gautier and ruled that the sentence was appropriate in all the circumstances. The court dismissed the Crown's appeal. The conditional discharge was upheld.

R. v. J.F. – Dawson Creek Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: The credibility of the complainant's testimony during this three day trial.
Result: After vigorous cross examination of the complainant and another Crown eyewitness, Mr. Gauthier made submissions which were accepted by the trial judge. The court found our client to be not guilty and aquitted him of the charge. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. D.C. – Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault (x2).
Issue: In the circumstances of these historic charges and our client's rehabilitation, whether a community based sentence was appropriate.
Result: Notwithstanding that Crown counsel sought a 20 month jail sentence, the trial judge agreed with Mr. Mines' submission that, in the circumstances of our client's genuine remorse and rehabilitation, it was appropriate to  grant a conditional sentence of 21 months. No jail.

The Defence

Because the Cannabis Act retains the power to regulate and punish for “criminal activity” associated with unauthorized distribution and possession of cannabis, criminal law defences will continue to apply to cannabis prosecutions.

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search. As experienced drug lawyers, we will analyze the actions of investigating officers to test whether police have, in fact, conducted a lawful search, based on reasonable grounds. Where police overreach their authority, and conduct a search based on a mere hunch or suspicion we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search excluded at trial. Without the admission of the cannabis that was unlawfully obtained, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Cannabis was not for the purpose of distribution or sale

In order to prove that possession was for the purpose of distribution or sale, the Crown will usually bring a police expert to court who will testify that the circumstances of the seizure, along with the packaging and weight of the cannabis tend to prove that the cannabis was intended to be distributed. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert opinion that the circumstances of the cannabis seizure are only consistent with distribution and not simple possession. In many cases we have succeeded in negotiating possession for distribution charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without cannabis directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and cannabis is found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for distribution but none of the cannabis is found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the cannabis in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting cannabis offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.